It would be easy to dismiss the 2004 Suzuki GSX-R750 and simply give it a mere mention among the other new '04 sportbikes. The GSX-R750 has no direct competition--it alone represents the 750cc class. With the recent changes in AMA and World Superbike regulations, its existence cannot be justified as a racing necessity, and with a cursory glance at the 750 or its specification sheet, it appears to be simply an oversized GSX-R600 or an underpowered GSX-R1000--nothing to write home about. Indeed, passing over the 750 in favor of one of the incredible new literbikes, or even the GSX-R600, would be perfectly understandable. However, ignore the middle GSX-R and you will miss out on what could be one of the best bikes--if not The Bike--of the year.
Editor Kunitsugu's first-ride piece in our June issue ("A Force of One") outlined the important technical details of the three-quarter-liter Suzuki, but rather than barrage you with yet another rundown of GSX-R updates, here is the executive summary: The 750 is essentially a '04 GSX-R600 with a 5mm larger bore and a 3.5mm longer stroke. That is the only major difference, and it does account for much of the behavioral contrast between the two bikes. However, there are other, subtler changes that make the 750 stand out from the 600 much more than 150cc would lead you to believe.
It takes but a quick ride around town for that extra displacement to reveal itself. Whereas the 600 has a rather lethargic bottom end and midrange, the 750 pulls away from stop lights with at least some authority, and it doesn't require the careful manipulation of the clutch and throttle that the 600 does. While that is a nice characteristic, one aspect that is significantly worse than on the 600 is the throttle response. At low revs around town, it's virtually impossible to shift smoothly, as the jerky throttle and driveline lash (also somewhat more than on the 600) combine to make for a rough ride unless you are either very aggressive or very gentle with the throttle.
It's also immediately obvious around town that the 750's brakes work quite a bit differently than the 600's, even though the components are the same--we can only deduce that the pad compound is responsible. When we claimed the 600 had perhaps the best brakes of any sportbike, we were premature. That honor goes to the 750's brakes, as they have much better feel than the 600's when cold, and react more consistently over a broader temperature range. The only caveat is that they do have more initial bite, and require gradual application to avoid locking the front wheel unintentionally. This leads us to a common theme we encountered during our testing, one that separates the 750 from the 600 in more than just engine power. Many of the performance benefits the bigger bike offers require a certain level of rider skill, a level many potential 600 buyers may not have acquired. Remember this point; we'll come back to it later.
Back-to-back testing of the...
Back-to-back testing of the GSX-R750 with the 600 and 1000 resulted in some very interesting findings. If you have the finesse and skill to use the 750 to its potential, it's the better bike of the trio for canyon carving. We didn't have an opportunity to do a complete racetrack evaluation of all three bikes together, but expect the 750 to post a strong showing in our upcoming Bike of the Year test.
Every other aspect of city riding on the 750 is exactly the same as riding the 600--that is to say, adequate without being a major high point of the GSX-R ownership experience. Move to the freeway, and that similarity continues--the 750 is bearable for a long drone, but only just; it's not a bike you'd want to take on a longer trip. We will point out that at speeds just under normal freeway cruising, the 750's pegs and clip-ons vibrate more than the 600's. You'll want to get up to speed and through that annoyance right quick, as once over 75 mph everything is quite smooth. Bring the previous-generation 750--dating back to '00--into the picture and for city and freeway riding the same comparisons can be made to that model that we made between the new and old 600s in our last issue. That is, the new 750 is not a lot different in terms of comfort compared to the old bike; the closer, lower clip-ons are just as much of a stretch, the seat is a bit firmer, the fairing provides a bit less protection, and the mirrors are similarly spaced.
An outing at an MTC track day (818/932-0433, www.mtctrackday.com) at the Streets of Willow with a set of Michelin Pilot Race H2s fitted saw the 750 more in its element. That extra midrange from the displacement bump has the 750 pulling much harder off of turns, and the straights seem an awful lot shorter on the bigger bike. Flopping from side to side--and there are many such transitions at the Streets--requires noticeably more effort than on the 600, and throttle response in the mid to upper range of the powerband is much more abrupt--a very steady throttle hand is required. The brakes are as powerful as the 600's on the track, where you can keep some heat in the smaller bike's binders, but lack the 600's desire to keep working once you let off the lever. Our testers seemed torn between the 600 and 750 for track work--some felt the additional power offset the slower turning and didn't notice the more abrupt throttle, while others thought the 750 was much more work to get around the track at a slower pace. Again, it comes down to having the skill and experience to make the most of the 750's extra performance capabilities.
It's a heritage thing: Suzuki's...
It's a heritage thing: Suzuki's sportbike history is largely based on the GSX-R750, and that is one reason the 750 has been continued in spite of having no racing class or competition. Since the first model was introduced in the United States in 1986, there have been six iterations, as well as numerous 600, 1000 and 1100cc spin-offs.
It's in the canyons that the 750 really, really excels. We took along our GSX-R600 and GSX-R1000 for benchmarks and found some very interesting results. As good as we said the 600 was in our last issue's test ("Sweet Symphony," July '04), the 750 is a discernible notch better. The points we noted that really held the 600 back--the brakes and lack of midrange--are nicely addressed on the 750: The brakes are consistent and powerful with just a light touch required, and the 750's extra displacement has it practically leaping off turns and eating up real estate in big chunks. In the rev range used in the bulk of street work, the throttle response is much smoother than around town or on the track, but it's still a problem that can really detract from enjoying the 750 on a section of curves where overly high or low revs are required. Have patience and work around those rev ranges and you will make serious time; be ham-fisted or anxious and you'll just get frustrated as your friends leave you behind.
Whereas there was a noticeable difference between the two bikes' turning abilities on the track, that gap is considerably lessened on the street, with the 750 steering just a touch slower as you arc into a turn on the brakes. We thought the 750's chassis was slightly more controlled over bumpy sections, which could have been due to each bike's setup, or perhaps some changes in the suspension itself. All the components--the shock, linkage and fork tubes--appear to be identical, but there may well be distinctions in the internals. Another of the subtle differences between the two bikes is the frame itself: The 750's cast steering head and swingarm pivot sections are slightly beefier, which may contribute to the bike's sure-footedness. On the setup side, the more we play with both the 600 and 750 GSX-Rs, the more we're finding how sensitive the bikes are to suspension settings. As little as a quarter-turn of front or rear rebound damping is a significant change, and the suspension softens up considerably with a rise in temperature.
Bring in the liter-sized GSX-R, and things just get better for the 750. The big bike feels like a marshmallow in comparison to either of its siblings, with its extra few pounds and additional gyroscopic inertia quite noticeable. If there was such a thing as a steering-quickness meter, and the 600 measured a 10, the 750 would be an eight and the 1000 would be a three--it's that much of a difference going to "Big Poppa." Yes, the 1K's oodles and oodles of torque and silky-smooth throttle response at the bottom have it leaping off turns where the 750 jumps and the 600, well...hops, but after that initial squirt the 750 doesn't lose as much as you'd think to the 1000. And the 750's binders are heaps better than the big bike's, which offer just as much stopping power once warm but dissipate that heat in even the shortest straights. Jump from the 750 to the 1000 and you'll have a big surprise in the first turn you encounter.
Even with 20 extra ponies on tap, it takes a long straight or a series of very fast corners for the 1000 rider to make up the ground lost in a twisty section, and during the course of our day's testing the 600 and 750 duo handily left the poor 1000 behind in most situations. The 600 and 750, while just a year newer in terms of development, are a noticeable notch superior to the 1000 in the chassis department.
All this raving about the new GSX-R750 may have you thinking the old bike must be a veritable turd, but that is certainly not the case--the '00-'03 version was really quite good. The '04's engine and suspension are not superior by huge leaps, but the brakes and chassis as a whole push the new bike that deciding step up the ladder of progress. Whereas previous versions were always conceived as a 750, and the 600 was spawned from its design--with sacrifices accordingly made--we get the impression the pair was more of a joint project. As a result, the 750 benefits from such updates as titanium valves, narrower throttle bodies and the slimmer tank that it may not have otherwise received.
We've gone from being slightly ho-hum about the 750 when we first heard Suzuki was updating it to being delighted that the company chose to do so. As more than one of our testers summed up the '04 GSX-R750 after a ride: "It's good. It's really good." Look for fireworks in this year's Bike of the Year face-off, where the GSX-R will go head to head with the ZX-10R and the winner of this issue's middleweight comparison test.
Could the 750 come back? One...
Could the 750 come back? One way is if MotoGP bikes or Superbikes get too fast and are downsized to 750cc--a logical step, and quite possible given the current rate of development. The GSX-R750 has had an illustrious racing career to date, and many riders (including both our editors, Trevitt on right) have raced one at some time in their careers. Current MotoGP stars Nicky Hayden (left) and John Hopkins (center) both had their initial professional successes on GSX-R750s.